Sep 27, 2010
Online news providers from Chicago and around the country converged in Chicago last week to discuss the ever-evolving trade of providing news and information via the web. The main event was Friday’s “Block by Block: Community News Summit 2010” hosted by online news experts Michele McLellan, Reynolds fellow, and Jay Rosen, pressthink.org. The Chicago Community Trust kicked off the two-day affair with a half-day conference on Thursday, “Advancing Chicago’s News Ecosystem.”
The Community Media Workshop presented two reports at Thursday’s conference–our NEW News 2010 report that we released in August, and our new report “Realizing Potential: What Chicago’s Online Innovators Need.” (Michael Miner blogged about the reports last week as well.) “Realizing Potential” is a look at what online news producers need to be sustainable in the long term. We spent most of August and September conducting focus groups and surveying Chicago’s online news providers about what type of assistance funders could offer to help them succeed. It’s obvious that cold hard cash is what most people need right now as they try to find economic models that work, but it’s also clear that foundations can only give so many general operating grants before they’re looking for other ways to help online news providers thrive.
After three focus groups, 71 survey responses and interviews with online news experts in other cites, here are just a few of the things we found out:
- Generating revenue is what keeps people up at night (41% of survey respondents said this was the biggest issue facing their site)
- 61% of survey respondents said their sites do not bring in more revenue than they pay out in expenses
- 62% said that many members of their site’s target audience do not know about their site
- One in three sites reported that if they understood their audience better, they could do a better job attracting advertisers and could produce a better site
- Most requested areas of training included: Building audiences (90%), Driving traffic (89%), Using metrics (80%), Seeking grants (80%), Using social media (77%)
Among other things, the report recommends that funders:
- Help online news sites sell advertising and generate other sources of revenue
- Help online news sites better understand their audiences
- Support an investigative reporting and community issues reporting fund
- Stay informed about the impact of national policy on local online news
To read the full report and complete list of recommendations for funders, download the report here.
These reports, as well as new research about how Chicagoans are consuming news and how different online news sites are linking to one another, were shared with an audience of more than 100 people on Thursday. (Check out all of the information and presentations on The Trust’s website or skim through a wiki about Thursday’s happenings here.) The group of attendees and the information was fascinating. For example, the report “Linking Audiences to News: A Network Analysis of Chicago’s Websites” (still in draft form but check out the presentation here) found that Gaper’s Block and Windy Citizen play critical “hub” and “intermediary” roles in Chicago’s online news network based on how many people link to their sites (Gapers Block=hub) or how many sites they link to (Windy Citizen=intermediary). These findings evoked cheers from the audience, which was fun to see since Andrew Huff (Gapers Block) and Brad Flora (Windy Citizen) were both in the room.
There was also frustrating information on news consumers’ feelings about the media, although probably not surprising. According to research by Medill School at Northwestern University and The Chicago Community Trust, more than half of Chicago-area residents surveyed don’t know enough about candidates or issues to vote. This and other findings about how people are consuming news in Chicago led to a healthy discussion about the type of news people need versus the type of news people want. (Download the full presentation about the draft report “News that Matters: An Assessment of Chicago’s Information Landscape” here.)
And it’s worth mentioning that in order to follow what’s going on at a conference now, especially one for and about online innovators, you better have your laptop or smart phone handy. There was rapid-fire conversation happening on Twitter during the sessions–just take a look at hash tags #bxb2010 and #cnm2010. And there was live streaming, a chat room and live blogging to help cover the presentations and panels. It was fun to watch in real time, and it’s a great way to archive the information for anyone who missed out last week.
At the Workshop we’re excited to serve as a neutral hub for this emerging sector, and we applaud the amazing work happening in Chicago. We also challenge funders to continue to support ambitious journalism–the kind that helps diverse communities, that tells the stories that may never have been told well by traditional media. Philanthropic support should aim to support a sustainable, thriving online news ecosystem that is ethical, comprehensive and accessible by all Chicagoans. Such investments may bear more risk than normal grant making, but they promise high rewards: a more broadly informed and engaged citizenry for the 21st century.
Photo: Rich Gordon (right), professor, Medill School at Northwestern, and Zachary Johnson, CEO, IKnow Inc./Syndio Social present their report “Linking Audiences to News” at Thursday’s conference.